I’ve had the most incredibly busy time lately, promoting my new book and TV series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures. I find the antidote to the increased pace is to reconnect with the outdoors – so the moment I got back to Wanaka I found myself out in the garden seeing how my vegetables are faring in this mad spring weather. It's November and we had snow at the weekend!
Over the past three years we have built an extensive cook’s garden in Wanaka. It seems a long time since last spring when we planted 67 packets of vegetable seeds, with all kinds of interesting vegetables to feature in my new TV series. We had great success with edamame beans and all kinds of heirloom tomatoes and chillies, and for the first time grew lots of Chinese greens and edible flowers. It was such a blast. I can’t wait until the weather settles down so I can get stuck in planting for this coming season – I've already ordered up large from my favourite seed catalogues
Meanwhile, back in the city my Auckland garden is in full swing with lush brassica production, rocket, spinach and carrots. Up here things run about a month earlier than the south. Around this time of year everything that has grown through the winter will start to go to seed. You want to get out and pick those leeks, beets and silverbeet as quickly as you can, as once the process of flowering kicks in plants lose a lot of their sweetness and can become quite bitter and tough.
Aside from the herbs, fruit and vegetables, there is also enormous pleasure to be had as spring flowers emerge and the fruit and almond trees fill the landscape with their beautiful blossoms. At home we always set the table for dinner and I love to be able to duck out to the garden and pick a fresh posy to put on the table.
There's such a sense of satisfaction in cooking and eating the freshest seasonal fruits and vegetables, knowing you've grown them yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much home-grown produce you can harvest from the tiniest backyard plot, and even if you don’t have room for a vegetable garden it's fun to grow herbs, salad greens and cherry tomatoes in planters, wine barrels or troughs. See my website for lots of great gardening tips.
Nutrient-rich spinach grows almost all year round, faltering only in the heat of midsummer. Instead of picking the whole plant, begin harvesting a few leaves at a time about five or six weeks after planting. Spinach will happily grow in full sun or semi shade, and is fine to plant in pots, planters or straight into the garden as long as the soil is well worked over first.
A great recipe to make the most of spring spinach before it goes to seed is my Sensational Spinach Tart – a lovely recipe my mother often served for lunch, and which I have made over and over again because it's just that good!
Baby spinach leaves are also great in a spring salad. Try them in my Moroccan Chickpea and Chicken Salad for a light lunch or evening meal. Happy cooking (and eating)!